Security & Fraud

Cybercriminals Take Deals To The Dark (Web) Side

Dark Web Holiday Deals

Consumers aren’t the only ones enjoying the discounts and deals brought on by the holiday season. Even hackers are cashing in and stocking up.

James Chappell, CTO and co-founder of Digital Shadows, joined PYMNTS for this week’s Hacker Tracker to discuss how cybercriminals are enjoying their own version of the holiday shopping season across online marketplaces on the dark web.

While consumers flocked to stores on Black Friday and hunted down deals on Cyber Monday, hackers were discovering a growing number of deals being made available on the dark web. From drugs and weapons to account passwords and stolen credit card data, the increasingly sophisticated cyber underworld was flush with Black Friday promotions and price reductions.

“What was traditionally a very consumer-oriented marketing campaign — Black Friday — has made its way into the criminal world, where they are even offering discounts to up the amount of sales they’ve made,” Chappell said. “It just shows the level of sophistication that there is in what is now large-scale, organized industrial crime.”

Digital Shadows’ research discovered one drug dealer was offering 12.5 g of marijuana for a “Black Friday Deal” price of $71.30. Uncut cocaine was also available at a discounted rate. Elsewhere knuckle-dusters were offered 20 percent off, a Taser 15 percent off, along with similar deals on stolen credit cards and accounts.

“Back when the criminal internet started out, it was almost at sort of a hobbyist level. If you look at it 10 years ago, it was people goofing around, really, and trying out different things,” Chappell explained. “But it’s really turned into an enormous industry as its matured.”

Hackers have transformed the cybercriminal underworld into a more proficient and digitally-powered environment, which now closely resembles the same business models and operations as legitimate businesses.

“Once again, we can see how professional the cybercriminal underworld is in their operations,” Chappell added. “The days of amateurs showing off their computing skills have long gone. Today criminal gangs control the majority of the cybercrime we and the companies we work for and with are exposed to day to day.”

As online marketplaces across the dark web have evolved, Chappell said they have also come to rely on ratings and reviews in order to establish trust between buyers and sellers in a space that is “inherently untrustable.”

“These markets have come to rely on ratings and people reviewing the quality of the crime that is coming from a particular place. The ratings and services they have now are almost more sophisticated than sites like eBay or the things we as consumers would interact with normally,” he explained.

Criminal Servers Get The Boot

While hackers are working hard to develop and grow their cybercriminal underworld, organizations around the world have made significant progress in attempting to take them offline.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI issued a joint statement this week that announced their ongoing combined efforts with other U.S. and over 40 international organizations — including Europol and Eurojust — to shut down a worldwide network of criminal computer servers.

“November 30 began the start of a multinational operation to dismantle a complex, criminal network of worldwide computer servers known as Avalanche,” the statement explained.

Avalanche has been operating since at least 2010, and the servers are believed to have hosted over two dozen of the most malicious types of malware. Hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide are estimated to be affected. The criminal servers also reportedly hosted a number of money laundering campaigns.

The joint operation has brought more than 50 Avalanche servers offline and will continue to work towards seizing, blocking and dismantling more than 800,000 domains associated with the Avalanche network. Authorities have also made arrests and conducted searches across five countries as a result of the ongoing operation.

The organizations noted that they will release more detailed information to the public early next week.



The pressure on banks to modernize their payments capabilities to support initiatives such as ISO 20022 and instant/real time payments has been exacerbated by the emergence of COVID-19 and the compelling need to quickly scale operations due to the rapid growth of contactless payments, and subsequent increase in digitization. Given this new normal, the need for agility and optimization across the payments processing value chain is imperative.

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